Gen Z bosses on the 6 misconceptions people have about them in the workplace: ‘We see these stereotypes getting in the way’

In 2024, Gen Z workers are set to surpass baby boomers in numbers within the American workforce. Currently, the eldest members of Gen Z, aged 27, are often scrutinized, from their email habits to their expectations around salaries. CNBC Make It delves into how these young professionals are reshaping career norms, workplace culture, and beyond.

Gen Z employees are aware of the criticisms directed at them by their superiors and are eager to address these perceptions. Since their integration into the workforce, numerous leaders have noted that this group, primarily in their twenties, can be challenging to manage, often perceived as having a weak work ethic and deficient communication skills. Some go so far as to avoid hiring Gen Z employees altogether.

According to Keely Antonio, 25, co-founder of FeelSwell Experiences, which aims to enhance employee engagement through events, such negative stereotypes are not new. She argues that these misconceptions about her generation being lazy, unreliable, and entitled are harmful and affect their ability to thrive and succeed in the workplace. This is particularly concerning as baby boomers retire and Gen Z becomes a more significant part of the labor force.

Antonio emphasizes that these stereotypes create obstacles, hindering intergenerational cohesion and collaboration in the workplace.

Here are some prevalent myths about Gen Z at work that she and other career experts believe need to be debunked:

Myth: Gen Z does not want to work. While it's true that young workers prominently advocate for work-life balance—a desire that crosses generational lines—this is often misinterpreted as a lack of willingness to work. In contrast, young professionals seek to redefine the work paradigm, says Ziad Ahmed, a 25-year-old co-founder of JUV Consulting. This redefinition might include preferences for remote work or unconventional working hours.  

Ziad Ahmed co-founded JUV Consulting, which advised Fortune 500 companies on Gen Z perspectives.
Ziad Ahmed co-founded JUV Consulting, which advised Fortune 500 companies on Gen Z perspectives.
Goldhouse | Lounge Booth

Young people recognize that working is necessary to reach their goals, even if it takes more work for less reward. Most recent college grads say they simply want stability from their job, and 53% of Gen Z workers say they have a side hustle to make ends meet, more than any other generation.

Ahmed says bosses should be careful not to conflate Gen Z questioning office policies and procedures with them being unwilling to work altogether. Young workers, and newcomers to an organization, come in with a fresh perspective on how to innovate old practices, which is different from not wanting to contribute at all, he says.

Myth: Gen Z wants a raise just for showing up

Antonio sometimes hears from leaders that Gen Z’s salary expectations are too high for what they bring to the workplace.

The friction comes down to a misalignment in expectations between bosses and young workers, and how each party communicates them, Antonio says.

“Something we’ve heard from leaders is Gen Z just wants a pay raise if they show up,” she says. “On the other hand, we hear Gen Z saying, ‘I just want to live my life, and I’m not getting paid enough to do this.’”

Often, that boils down to the young professional not feeling fulfilled in the work they do, or feeling pressure to work more hours than expected, and so they seek out value through higher pay, Antonio says.

What’s more, stagnating wage growth and rising costs of living mean young people earn more but aren’t able to afford milestones like paying off debt or saving for a home. The highest-paid graduates from the Class of 2024 expect to earn an average salary of $77,000 per year, and recent grads consider $82,000 per year a “high” salary.

As for finding a compromise in the workplace, Antonio says both sides play a role. She advises leaders to “go to the Gen Zer and say, ‘What’s going on? How can we help you create a better experience at this company and fulfill what you hope to achieve here?’ Then the Gen Z employee can express, ‘I enjoy working for your company; how can we hit some of my goals together?’”

Myth: Gen Z is asking for too much

Many leaders think Gen Z are entitled not just in their earning power, but what they expect out of work in general. If there’s one myth Ahmed would like to see wiped from the discourse, it’s that Gen Z workers’ expectations of where, when, and how work gets done are asking too much of what a professional environment can provide.

Every young generation has come into the world and workforce and asked hard questions to reimagine what the world can look like.
Ziad Ahmed

Research suggests Gen Z is especially enthusiastic about flexible working styles and the chance to make a difference. They expect benefits that support their entire being, like time off and mental health resources. They’re also vocal about wanting transparency at work, whether it’s a company’s stance on socio-political issues, how it creates an inclusive work culture, or around salary and compensation.

“It’s fair to say that what Gen Z is asking for is challenging, but it’s a disservice to all of us to believe what Gen Z is asking for is the incorrect thing to ask for,” Ahmed says.

“Every young generation has come into the world and workforce and asked hard questions to reimagine what the world can look like,” Ahmed says. Today, that means reimagining how work gets done, how people value their careers, and what they’re not willing to give up for it.

Ultimately, corporate resistance to change is “a cop-out,” Ahmed says. “It’s a bad business practice to say that if something is hard, it’s not worthwhile.”

It’s long been true that early-career professionals are more likely than seasoned workers to change jobs quickly. A lot of that comes down to life stage and responsibilities.

Antonio notes there are some factors specific to Gen Z that could make it easier to quit — but they’re not about company loyalty.

With the help of gig-work platforms and social media, there have never been so many visible options of how to make money outside of a 9-to-5 job. “We’re a generation of gig workers; we’re willing to walk away” from a poor work experience, Antonio says.

That doesn’t mean engaging young workers isn’t worthwhile, Antonio says. Given Gen Z is expected to make up 30% of the workforce by 2030, she says, “you don’t want to look at your organization in a few years and think, ‘Where are our employees?’”

As a young founder, former CEO, and now-manager at United Talent Agency, Ahmed contends that managing his peers is difficult. But it’s not unlike managing people of any age, he says.

Gen Z is an easy target for being labeled as challenging because they’re “probably a more outspoken and demanding bunch, and that can be laborious,” Ahmed says.

Plus, the pandemic ushered in an era where managers are expected to manage their employees’ well-being in addition to traditional work- and career-related tasks.

“Managing people today requires a lot of emotional labor, and a lot of managers are unprepared to perform that emotional labor,” Ahmed says. “But there’s this idea Gen Z is the first generation to have these concerns that require emotional labor, and I don’t think that’s true. But I think in previous generations, people have been quicker to dismiss it.”

Workers of all ages have always had concerns that required hard conversations, he says, but weren’t necessarily given the space to do that.

“Now we’re having them out in the open,” he says, which can help workers thrive.

Myth: Gen Z doesn’t strive to be leaders

The oldest of Gen Z turns 27 this year, but workers in that age range say they’re often still thought of as entry-level professionals who aren’t up to speed on how to behave at work, let alone lead ambitious projects.

Ahmed says many Gen Z workers are disillusioned by the traditional career ladder, where young workers pay their dues and may wait decades for leadership opportunities at work. They’ve seen millennials before them put in the work, only to be burned out by their own ambitions.

“Historically, you’ve been told that you learn for 20 years, you lead and work for someone else for another 50, and then, if you’re lucky, you live for another 10 years at the end,” he says. “And Gen Z and others are looking around and saying, ‘That’s not a good deal.’”

Instead, Ahmed says, “We want to live, lead, and learn simultaneously.”

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post